Neuroblastoma is a rare disease in which a solid tumor (a lump or mass caused by uncontrolled or abnormal cell growth) is formed by special nerve cells called neuroblasts. Normally, these immature cells grow and mature into functioning nerve cells. But in neuroblastoma, they become cancer cells instead.
Neuroblastoma most commonly starts in the tissue of the adrenal glands, the triangular glands on top of the kidneys that produce hormones responsible for controlling heart rate, blood pressure, and other important functions. Like other cancers, neuroblastoma can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body, such as the lymph nodes, skin, liver, and bones.
In a few cases, the tendency to get this type of cancer can be passed down from a parent to a child (familial type), but most cases of neuroblastoma (98%) aren't inherited (sporadic type). It occurs almost exclusively in infants and children and is slightly more common in boys than in girls.
Children diagnosed with neuroblastoma are usually younger than 5 years old, with the majority of new cases occurring among those younger than 1 year old. Only about 700 new cases of neuroblastoma are diagnosed each year in the United States
Neuroblastoma occurs when neuroblasts grow and divide uncontrollably instead of developing into nerve cells. The exact cause of this abnormal growth is unknown, but scientists believe it's related to a defect in the genes of a neuroblast that allows it to divide uncontrollably.